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The LDS Restorationist movement,
including Mormon denominations<

History of LDS Restorationism: 1844 to now

Earlier history of the LDS Church is described elsewhere.

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Church relocation:

Joseph Smith founded the original Mormon Church, The Church of Christ. It was not well received by the larger Christian denominations mainly because Smith had introduced The Book of Mormon as a second inspired book in addition to the Bible.

  • Smith had introduced the practice of polygamy among Mormons.

A public Danite organization was formed in the Mormon community to organize defense, construct homes and obtain provisions. In late 1838, serious levels of violence had broken out, as the original European settlers attacked the Mormons; they were concerned that the LDS might become a political majority in their locality. The attack appears to have started as a method of preventing Mormons from voting. The state militia became involved. Sampson Avard, who is believed to have been both a captain within the Danites and an officer in the militia, persuaded his men to become a "covert renegade band" and to avenge outrages against the Mormons. When Joseph Smith, founder and leader of the church, heard of this group's illegal activity, he removed Avard from command and disbanded his criminal group.

Faced with diminishing supplies, the approach of winter, an aggressive militia and an anti-LDS extermination order from the Governor, the Mormons surrendered. The church moved again. Their destination was Commerce IL, which Smith renamed Nauvoo in 1839. It was there that a form of polygamy called polygyny was introduced. This is the practice of a man taking more than one wife. It has been variously called the Law of Abraham, or the Patriarchal Order of Marriage, or Celestial Plural Marriage. Associated with these was the Law of Sarah -- the belief that a man's first wife must give permission for her husband to marry again. Smith personally assigned women to some of the Mormon men -- a practice that continues today among some of the more fundamentalist small faith groups within the LDS Restorationist movement.

Sampson Avard, by then a Mormon dissident, became the star witness at a court of inquiry into the conflict in Missouri. Under oath, he wove an fanciful tale, stating that it was the Mormon Church which had organized a secret band to commit atrocities. He blamed the entire Danite service group for the outrages. From his testimony, the legend of the Danites was created. Over the next 60 years, more than 50 novels were published in English about the Danites - including works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Zane Grey and Robert Louis Stevenson. The legend of the Danites became imbedded in the public consciousness.

At the age of 38, Joseph Smith decided to run for the presidency of the US. He chose Rigdon as his vice-presidential candidate. 1 A local newspaper (the Nauvoo Expositor) was critical of his political platform, and revealed to their readership that Mormons were practicing polygyny (a practice that Smith denied at the time). In order to silence the opposition, he ordered his followers to destroy the presses. In 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested for the crime. A mob later broke into the jail and assassinated both of them.

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Successor to Joseph Smith chosen:

As with many religious organizations, the death of the founder provoked a serious problem. This was elevated to a crisis because Joseph Smith had left no clear and unambiguous choice to be his successor. The Twelve Apostles of the church prayed for guidance. They believed that they received a revelation from God that a reluctant Brigham Young (1801-1877) should be the second president of the church. Another group within the church created the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), now known as the Community of Christ. The latter group's leadership was provided by Joseph Smith III and Emma Smith (the son and wife of the founder). Other smaller splinter groups broke away at this time, including the Bickertonites, the Strangites and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). Others have split off since.

After Joseph Smith was assassinated, Sidney Rigdon was a logical choice as a successor. However, he fell out of favor with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and was excommunicated by Brigham Young. 2

In 1846, Brigham Young led most of the church on a long and difficult 1,300 mile (2,100 km) trip to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where they established Salt Lake City. Mormon anger against the Gentiles (non-Mormons) remained high for many years. While in the mid-west, they had been continually persecuted and even massacred by state governments and by non-Mormons wherever they had settled. This state of tension continued in Utah between the settlers and the Federal Government.

The Brigham Young group changed the capitalization in the name of their church to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1851.

It was during a time of particularly high tensions that the Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred: A group of local Mormons, aided by Southern Paiute Indians, allegedly deceived and attacked a group of 137 pioneers who were attempting to travel from Arkansas, through Utah, on their way to California in 1857. This act triggered an even greater federal presence in Utah. More details.

The Mormon practice of polygyny was countered by the federal government's Edmunds Act of 1882. Multiple attempts to have Utah recognized as a state failed because of their marriage practices. In 1890, the Church believed that it received a revelation from God that changed church beliefs and practices. The fourth president of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, issued a manifesto (called the "Great Accommodation"). It generally suspended the solemnization of plural marriages for an indefinite period. In special cases, a few such marriages continued to be sealed in secret among Mormon leadership as late as the 1920's. Utah became a state in 1896, six years after the manifesto was issued. Many small Mormon splinter groups who wished to continue polygyny formed at this time; they were all excommunicated from the LDS church. The policy of automatic excommunication continues today.

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Recent Mormon history:

Some Mormon groups in the state of Utah and in British Columbia, Canada still engage in polygyny. Polygyny is against the law in theory but legal in practice in British Columbia. The Attorney General of the province recently decided to not pursue a charge of bigamy against the inhabitants of a largely Mormon town, because it would probably conflict with the religious freedom provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution. The government realized that any court case raised against the Mormon group on constitutional grounds might establish polygamy on firm legal grounds across Canada.

During the 20th century, the LDS church maintained a dominant role in the state of Utah. As of mid-2001, the Governor of Utah, and all of its Federal senators, representatives and members of the state Supreme Court are Mormons. 3

More federal political pressure was felt by the LDS church in the 1970's over the church's institutionalized racism. Male Mormons who had any black ancestry were prohibited from being ordained on racist grounds. The church experienced pressure from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, sports groups, boycotts of church businesses and Utah tourism. The church teaches that it received a new revelation from God in 1978-JUN which abolished racism within the church. Male African-Americans are now regarded as full members of the LDS and are eligible to be considered for ordination. Black women are still excluded from ordination, as are all women of all races. More details

In recent decades, the LDS was a main force defeating the Equal Rights Amendment which would have given women rights equal to men in the U.S.

The LDS has been particularly dedicated to preventing same-sex couples from attaining equal rights, such as the right to enter into same-sex marriages. In California, Mormons joined with Roman Catholics and others to organize Protect Marriage -- the main group that sponsored Prop 8 in that state. Some have estimated that half of the $40 million raised for Prop 8 during 2008 came from Mormons. Most of the volunteer canvassers were LDS volunteers. Prop 8 passed with 52% of the vote, and temporarily restored marriage in the state to only one woman and one man. Prop 8 was later challenged in federal court where it was declared unconstitutional.

On 2015-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Their decision expanded the institution of marriage across the nation to include same-sex couples. The only exception was American Samoa where most of its inhabitants are considered American residents, but not American citizens. They are not necessarily subject to decisions by the Supreme Court, and the territorial government has decided to not allow same-sex couples to marry at this time.

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  1. "Sidney Rigdon: A portrait of religious excess," book review, at:
  2. Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Sidney Rigdon: A portrait of religious excess," Signature Books, (1994). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  3. K.L. Woodward, "A Mormon Moment: America's biggest homegrown religion is looking more Christian. But it's still a different world," Newsweek, 2001-SEP-10, at:

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Copyright 1997 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2017-APR.09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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